Selecting and navigating cells, rows, and columns: Basic How-To

Okay, time a brief introduction to some techniques that we’ll be needing from here on out. I’ve previously mentioned selecting one or more cells, but if we’re talking about potentially large detailed lists it’s now time to discuss how to navigate around and select large chunks of data.

These techniques are pretty much universal. As far as I can tell all current spreadsheets use them, except where otherwise noted. Therefore I won’t break these techniques out by program the way I’ve done with others.

A note on appearance: The cell you are in generally has a thick black border. When more than one cell is selected the whole group is usually a different color (often black or a shade of blue), and has a darker/thicker border. The individual cell you are in may or may not have a thick black border as well.

Selecting 1 cell:

Click anywhere in the desired cell with your mouse, OR use the up, down, right, and left arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate to it. Once you are at a cell, it is selected.

Selecting 2 or more adjacent cells:

Press and hold the Shift key. While continuing to hold down the shift key, either click on the furthest cell you want to select OR use the up, down, right, and left arrow keys on your keyboard to navigate to it. By furthest cell I mean, for example if you’re in cell A1 and you want to select a group of 5 rows and 2 columns, you would click on or navigate to cell B5. If you were in cell A5 and wanted to select the same group of cells, you would go to cell B1.

Selecting 2 or more separated cells:

In Excel and OpenOffice you can select multiple non-adjacent cells by holding down the Ctrl key while clicking on the cells you want. There is no keyboard shortcut for this. If you want to select a number of adjacent cells in addition to some non-adjacent ones you can do so by clicking in one cell and dragging with your mouse across all the adjacent ones you want, the same way you’d click and drag across a paragraph in a browser or word processor.

Navigating to the start/end of a set of entries:

While you could scroll up and down and use your mouse to click, that can get exceedingly tedious when you’re working with more rows or columns that can fit on your screen. If you are in a cell that has one or more adjacent entries then pressing and holding down the Ctrl key while hitting one of the arrow keys will move the cursor to the furthest adjacent entry in that direction. If the cell you are in is adjacent to an empty cell in that direction then it will move to the next entry in that direction, no matter how far it is. If there are no more entries in that direction it will go to the edge of the worksheet. For example, assume you had entries in rows 3, 4, 5, 7,8,9,10, and 13, and that you’re starting in row 1. Holding down the Ctrl key and hitting the down arrow you would first jump to row 3, then row 5, then row 7, then 10, then 13, then to the bottom row in the entire spreadsheet.

Alternatively, most spreadsheets (except Google) will take you to cell A1 if you hit Ctrl and the ‘Home’ key, or to the bottom-right cell of your data if you hit Ctrl and the ‘End’ key. In this case when I say bottom-right I mean the cell that is the intersection of the last row you and put data in, and the last column you put data in. This makes intuitive sense if you’ve got a 10×10 table, but if you had data in cell A10 and cell J1, then Ctrl-End would take you to cell J10 even if J10 is blank.

Selecting a large number of adjacent cells:

If you are trying to select existing data, use the techniques for navigating to the start/end of a set of entries, but also hold down the Shift key.
If you’re trying to select a lot of blank cells in order to paste something you can also put a placeholder (such as “x”) in the upper-left corner of what you want to select, then another one in the lower-left corner. Then move to the lower-right corner, and shift-ctrl-left to move to your lower-left placeholder, followed by Shift-Ctrl-Up to move to your upper-left placeholder. That will select the whole region you want.
If you’re trying to select a lot of blank cells including cell a1, it’s even easier. Just go to the lower-right cell that you want to select, and hit Shift-Ctrl-Home.

Selecting 1 or more rows:

If you look to the left of the row, you will see the row label number, probably on a grey background. Click on that number. The entire row should now be selected. More rows can be selected by dragging the mouse, holding down Shift and either clicking or using the up & down arrows, or (in Excel and Open Office only) by holding down Ctrl and clicking on other rows.

Selecting 1 or more columns:

If you look at the top of the column, you will see the column label letter(s), probably on a grey background. Click on that letter. The entire column should now be selected. More columns can be selected by dragging the mouse, holding down Shift and either clicking or using the right & left arrows, or (in Excel and Open Office only) by holding down Ctrl and clicking on other columns.

Selecting the entire worksheet:

If you look at where the row labels and the column labels intersect, there is usually a blank box, or possibly a box with a little arrow or triangle in it. Click on that box.

Alternatively, you can just hold down the Ctrl key and press “A”. This keyboard shortcut for “select all” works just about everywhere.

Navigating between worksheets:

There are two ways to navigate between worksheets. You can either click on the little tabs at the bottom of the page, or you can hold down Ctrl and press either page-up or page down to move to another sheet.

Selecting multiple worksheets:

To select multiple worksheets you simply hold down the Shift key and follow the instructions for navigating between worksheets. In Excel and OpenOffice you can also use Ctrl and mouse-clicks to select non-adjacent sheets.